Saturday, April 27, 2019

An afternoon on the Letort

A gorgeous spring afternoon on the Letort
Since my daughter started college in south central PA, I have wanted to fish the Letort.  The history associated with the Letort has always interested me.  The early experiments in fly development, presentation, and stream conservation of Vince Marinaro, Ernest Schweibert, Charlie Fox, Ed Shenk, and others has always intrigued me.  There is certainly no shortage of literature that has been written based on observations from the laboratory that is the Letort.

Despite this desire to explore the Letort, the reputation this spring creek has for being extremely challenging and frustrating to fish has to this point, kept me from the river.  Many of my visits to central PA are brief and without sufficient time to invest in getting to know a challenging river like the Letort.

Over the past 2 ½ years of fishing in south central PA, I’ve talked to Neil Sunday of the TCO fly shop in Boiling Springs, PA a few times and found him to be extremely helpful so when I saw a video of him fishing the Letort last summer (video is linked here), I decided to look for an opportunity for him to give me a tour of the Letort and we were able to work out our schedules to spend an afternoon together.

Stealth is absolutely necessary on the Letort
Photo courtesy of Neil Sunday
The day started with a great nymphing session on the Breeches and after a brief sandwich in town, I headed to shop to meet Neil.  I had to smile when he pulled out is camo shirt, apparently I’m not the only who doesn’t dress stupid

Neil gave me a fantastic overview/tour of the river as well as the history of those areas as we walked along.  We visited three areas and fished through each one "at the pace of nature" (Neil's words).  We covered lots of ground at a paced that seemed perfect to everything around. 

Casting dries on the Letort Photo courtesy of Neil Sunday
Four observations stood out from the afternoon.  First, there is certainly a lot of truth to the idea that this is a tough river to fish, sometimes downright impossible.  The fished don’t easily show themselves and they are lightening quick in slashing at a fly and disappearing into the caulky depths. Second, I was surprised by the depth of what is a fairly relatively narrow river.  Thirdly, this river moves along!  It seems like a placid river at first but don’t be fooled, this river pushes a lot of water through its banks.  Finally, it is not easy to “read” this river due the caulky nature of the water and the light colored bottom.  Other than the abundant weed beds, it was difficult to see any structure to target.

In the sections we fished, we stayed well back of the banks so as not to alert the fish of our presence.  The only time I stepped into the river was to try and reach a seam across the river with some nymphs and I was quickly taken to task by the soft bottom.  I was up to my knees in muck in no time and cold spring water was rushing into my rolled down hip boots.  I tried to back out quickly but soft bottom just wasn’t let go easily.  I stayed out of the water the rest of the afternoon.

I had two browns on briefly while fishing a small nymph paired with a weighted cress bug.  Both were decent sized wild browns since I got a good look at each before they threw the hook.

About mid afternoon, we switched over to a dry dropper and managed to coax a couple of fish to slash at the caddis dry.  I don’t really know if they felt the hook or not since they were gone so quickly, never to return. 

At the end of the day we finished up in Vince’s meadow.  As we walked past the monuments to Vince Marinaro and Charlie Fox the sense of the history of the place was palpable.  

Fishing Vince's meadow
Photo courtesy of Neil Sunday
Neil was convinced that we would have one more opportunity and he was right.  Near the end of the evening one more fish rose to a small dark parachute and was gone as quickly as it came.  With darkness starting to envelope the meadow, we walked out together, satisfied that we had found fish and had put one in the net.

Special thanks to Neil Sunday for guiding me and for the pictures and to Brad Bashore for encouraging me to give the Letort a try.  I hope to fish there again soon!

Monday, April 22, 2019

A few days on the Breeches

I had the chance to spend a few hours over three days on the Yellow Breeches in PA this past week as I had been invited to give two lectures at Messiah College.

I left early in the morning the day before the lectures so that I could spend a few afternoon hours on the Breeches.  When I arrived I went to the TCO shop in Boiling Springs to talk to Neil about what was going on and to firm up our plans to spend an afternoon on the Letort (more on that later).  I would highly recommend this shop if you are in the area.  It is well stocked and the staff are very friendly and helpful.

The afternoon I arrived the Breeches was high and discolored from rain the previous day so I fished “The Run”.  There were a lot of fisherman on the lake, but I had The Run to myself.   A mix of stocked rainbows, browns, and a couple of very colorful brook trout were brought to the net using small flashback PT's, copper-beaded PT soft hackles, gold-beaded hare's ear soft hackles, and olive Lafontaine caddis pupas.  It was a wonderfully warm and bright day to be outside and the fishing was great.

In contrast to the previous afternoon, the following morning was a rainy, raw, and cold.   However, as soon as the rain  showers started the fishing really heated up.  I shared The Run with a Blue Heron that had obviously found a good source of fish based on the number of I caught with scars on their backs.  It was a fantastic couple of hours, nymphing the shallow riffles before I needed to head off to meet some students and prepare for the lectures.

A wild brown in the morning mix
On my last morning in the area, Neil had provided a couple other areas on the Breeches to check out which I was very grateful for.  When I took a quick glance at the river early the next morning, it still high and off-color to me, so I figured I would fish "The Run" again before our afternoon on the Letort.

One of a few wild rainbows in the Run
I had to adjust to smaller flies this particular morning since the flies that had worked previously were not of interest to the fish.  I could spot fish sitting in the shallow riffles, and from their movements it looked like they were feeding so I downsized to a #18 flashback PT and an olive zebra midge.  This was the best morning of my trip since I was able to really dial in my small nymphing game.  The fish were very quick and the takes subtle, so I need to work at keeping the nymphs quiet and drifting naturally so that I could detect subtle changes in the sighter.   Once I worked things out I was catching fish pretty regularly and the strongly healthy fish in the run put quite a bend in my short 3 wt!

Wild browns like this one make fishing "the Run" a blast
One of the things I love about fishing "The Run" is the fact that I always find wild fish.  This particular morning I landed a few tiny wild rainbows and a nice wild brown.  It was a fantastic couple of days on the run and the afternoon on the Letort was one to remember thanks to Neil (check back for the next post in a few days).

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Wishing you a wonderful Easter

I love the lyrics of hymns, the good ones have a way to stating the truth in a way that is both beautiful and profound.  The lyrics below are from one of my favorite Easter hymns that describes how the resurrection of Christ from the tomb changes everything!

Wishing you and wonderful Easter everyone!

Christ the Lord is risen today
Earth and heaven in chorus say.
Raise your joys and triumphs high
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply!

Love's redeeming work is done
Fought the fight, the battle won.
Death in vain forbids him rise
Christ has opened paradise! 

Lives again our glorious King
Where, O death, is now thy sting?
Once he died our souls to save
Where's thy victory, boasting grave?

Soar we now where Christ has led
Following our exalted Head.
Made like him, like him we rise
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Open the CT trout season

Saturday morning Alan and I marked the opening of the CT trout season on a small stream in search of wild trout.

Heavy rains began the night before and continued through the early morning causing the streams to be high and dirty.  We started off at a spot where we opened the 2018 season with our friend Pete and his son.  At the time, we didn't realize that it would be the last time we would fish with Pete.  Before heading out into the rain, we chatted over coffee and some muffins in the truck, hoping the rain would let up but it didn't. The current and the muddy water was not encouraging in the early going so Alan suggested we try another stream nearby which was a good call.

The second stream we fished was in a part of the state of CT that I had never visited in my 30 years of being a resident.  The stream and the surrounding steep gorges full of hemlock, mountain laurel, and oak were all reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains.  This stream was also swollen and off-color but we did find fish behind a rock or in a seam that was protected from the main current.  I landed three very nice brook trout and had a few more brief encounters.  I was fishing a double nymph rig to get the flies down with a bright weighted green weenie on point and a Walt's worm on the tag.  All the fish I landed took the Walt's.   

Alan took me up a tributary to see a waterfall and we fished the small tributary.  The brook trout pictured below was hiding under the root of a tree. Both of us were surprised by it's size given the size of the tributary and how far we were from the main stream.

The waterfall we were searching for

On the hike back to the car, the rain had stopped and the sun was working on breaking through the grey clouds.  We thought one more stream might be worth exploring. 

When we arrived, I traded my rain jacket for a lighter shirt and exchanged the mono leader with the two weighted nymphs for a dry dropper rig more suited for the stream we were about to fish.  As I was switching out my gear I could see Alan working a brook trout out from an undercut.  This stream had already started to clear and the brook trout were on the ready to grab a drifting dry fly. 

We both found brook trout in most every run that we fished.  I stuck with the dry dropper since I was finding some of the larger fish were willing to take the dropper.  After working upstream together it was time to say our good byes, content to have continued our opening day tradition and to have found fish under tough conditions.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Making a day of it back in CT

Saturday morning I was up early and headed back to Connecticut to fish the Farmington River.  I was missing the fact that I haven't fished the Farmington in quite a well so I decided a trip back was in order.  I fished various spots from the dawn until midafternoon when the wind started to really kick up.

The fishing was slow but I did managed a couple of good sized rainbows.  I was test driving a new tight line nymphing leader that George Daniels described on his blog.  I really liked the way it cast the flies and was easy to spot due to the bright running line and opaque leader material.  It is much lighter and more supple than the leader I had been using.  I am looking forward to getting some more practice with it but the first session was very encouraging.

The first wild brown of the afternoon
Once the wind started to really blow, I decided to start to head home.  My plan was to fish a small stream on the way back which turned out to be a very good call!  When I arrived, the afternoon sun had warmed things up nicely and the wind I was battling on the Farmington was not an issue.  I figured that I would fish a dry dropper rig to start and see what the fish were interested in.  The Ausable Bomber paired with a Hare's Ear nymph was a good combination to explore with and it wasn't long before a small wild brown nailed the Hare's Ear.  I spent a few hours in the late afternoon sun watching wild browns and one brook trout slam both the dry and the dropper.

In the last run of the day an aggressive fish slashed at the Bomber twice but could not be coaxed back for a third try.  I removed the dry and the dropper and replaced it with a more subtle Adam's Wulff.  On the third drift of the Adams, the brown came out of nowhere and crushed it.  After a brief but surprisingly intense struggle, I was holding a beautiful wild brown in my hand before returning it to the water.  It was an amazingly beautiful day to be out fishing again and enjoying the warm afternoon after a long cold winter.